USJC 2022: Great Expectations: Leadership for These Times

Ms. Lori Teranishi (Founder and CEO, iQ 360) introduced the theme of leadership in our times by describing that organizations are implementing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) to reach their goals while at the same time dealing with disruptions at a pace that has never been seen before. ESG provides a model of showcasing preparedness for and leadership in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

She then introduced the respective panelists and began the dialogue by asking each panelist what is the toughest challenge they face in the VUCA world and how they are addressing it. Mr. Jasper Cheung (President, Amazon Japan, G.K.) responded first by saying that since Amazon started, its mission has always been to be the earth’s most customer-centric company, and the company continues to work towards that regardless of short-term disruptions. He added that Amazon maintains a “Day One” concept, whereby every day is a new one and past failures will not stop them, and that his biggest concern is whether or not Amazon can maintain the “Day One” concept and whether he himself is doing enough to maintain it. Mr. Tsuyoshi Nagano (Chairman of the Board, Tokio Marine Holdings, Inc.) responded that he believes the most difficult and important job for leaders is to create a corporate culture that fosters employees and organizations and that is the starting point of why the company exists. Many companies just pursue profit, which will not motivate employees and cannot be sustainable. It is very important to recognize that profit is the means to achieve the purpose of the company, and value should not be placed on profit. Ms. Dana Heatherton (Head of Emerging Markets, Waymo) added that many companies are facing an issue of retention. Employees and particularly millennials are looking for purpose and they want to belong to something that is solving societal problems. She emphasized that now there is an opportunity for companies to reassess how they give perks to employees in order to retain employment.

Picking up the topic of retention, Ms. Teranishi then asked the panelists to describe how changes in society and employee mindsets have affected the way they lead. Mr. Cheung answered that Amazon has always worked under a set of leadership principles, one of which is “hire and develop the best.” He believes that focusing on people was an important success factor when Amazon Japan started, but today it is not good enough. Diversity and inclusion are extremely important, and within that is the importance of empathy and phycological safety. Amazon Japan is working to be more conscious, and treating the feedback from employees as a gift and reflecting that into policies will be critical. He added that that is why Amazon Japan added the mission statement of becoming the earth’s best employer. Mr. Nagano agreed with the statement and added that human capital is a keyword on the topic. He believes there is nothing stronger than an organization supported by self-help for employees. Therefore, the leader’s job is to bring about “bottom-up by top-down,” and to align the growth of the company and employees. He explained how Tokio Marine is working to support employees in taking on the challenge of changing not only the way they work, but also various other aspects such as learning and studying to achieve growth for the company and themselves. He also emphasized that creating sustainable and win-win relationships among stakeholders is vital and that companies can solve social issues using commercial means, and all stakeholders must be aware of the need to create a society and business that can sustain itself. On the concept of making the environment one that mobilizes people, Ms. Heatherton shared the recent activities of the Emerging Leaders Program and her experiences from the TOMODACHI Mitsui & Co. Leadership Program to emphasize that Japanese companies place importance on looking after their employees, without a separate concept of ESG, but simply because it is the right thing to do, which is in contrast to how American companies operate. She highlighted that there are many things that American companies could learn from Japanese companies in this regard.

Ms. Teranishi then asked Mr. Nagano what qualities he would consider most essential in future leaders at his company. He answered that when he became a general manager, he was told that people who do not fully understand the philosophy and culture are not suited for the company. He now believes that these are the most essential qualities for leaders. In order to create a culture, the leaders themselves must have a firm understanding of the corporate philosophy and values, and their words and actions must be consistent. He also added that it is important to understand that work cannot be done alone. It is an essential quality for leaders to move by uniting the strengths of those around them, and empowering and motivating employees, aligning their growth to that of the company. Mr. Cheung expressed his support for Mr. Nagano’s sentiments. Looking at Amazon Japan, the company’s leadership principles are valued by every employee. Looking at what Amazon Japan needs to do in the future, using the leadership principles as a guide, there are other actions they should value, including how to make good decisions. There will be more instances of VUCA times over the next few years, so how to take these factors and be able to turn them into the right decisions for the company is vital. He also added that the notion of empathy needs to be taken to a whole new level, as it is a comparatively new concept for Amazon Japan.

Finally, Ms. Teranishi asked how the leaders are balancing their work with the current movements and issues in the world. Mr. Cheung answered that Amazon continues to see the world as ever-changing, and as part of the “Day One” culture, it will continue to embrace changes, as opposed to resisting them. He added that Amazon Japan has emphasized sustainability, including the goal of achieving carbon neutrality ahead of 2050. Having goals like that would create innovation that has never been seen before, and by bringing more people into that, there will be enough innovative power to make the earth a better place. Mr. Nagano first expressed his deep sorrow for the suffering in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion. He then stated that climate change has become a global challenge that poses risks to the safety and security of customers and society. As such, Tokio Marine is committed to implementing actions that help transition to a decarbonized society. Ms. Heatherton emphasized that many areas of society and policy need to move forward, but that not one area can move faster than the others. When thinking about how to balance competing interests, drawing on Japanese values of moving as a unit and showing restraint will make sure that no one gets excluded.